“If you accomplish something good with hard work, the labor passes quickly, but the good endures; if you do something shameful in pursuit of pleasure, the pleasure passes quickly, but the shame endures.”
Musonius Rufus, Sayings 51.2
You stand outside a bar with your friends. Smoke twists out from their cigarettes, choking the air of its moisture. Then a plume settles into a halo over the neon lights. You smell a familiar staleness, leaves burning. Filters flick onto the ground, stomped out.
Your mind itches for a smoke, an intake. A suck of tobacco. You remember the ritual: smacking the pack, pulling a cigarette as white as an egg out, lipping it, and striking a match. That burst of flame, crackling with your drag, eases you down. Your focus narrows. You hum with nostalgia of the pattern, the saying "fuck it" to the dangers. You’re alert, yet calm, chatting with a stranger, ignoring your dependency, your addiction.
You forget why you even quit. You forget lying in bed after going cold-turkey, shivering with nerves. When you had stopped, the absence of nicotine, its call, was like a parasite. You could hear it screaming when you didn’t indulge it. It promised to help you deal with stress, to be more alert, to calm down, to laugh more. Then when you stopped inhaling, its true form manifested in the dark, an ugly chemical horror, needing to eat your organs. Killing your cells. Telling you to rationalize your poor decisions because it’s only one cigarette, only one time.
Rather than seeking a cheap pleasure, which is fleeting, which will not sustain you, you think more now. You can already see the pattern of what will happen when you give in, when you relapse, surrendering your discipline and health, confidence and strength, for a parasitic desire. Your attachment is mental, fixed into the stories you tell yourself, after you've already grinded through the physical withdrawal.
Rather than chasing what is shameful but pleasurable, you will look into yourself. You don’t even have to justify why cigarettes are harmful anymore. Watch as the sensation of desire comes, then goes. Focus on the changing of each moment, settled into your body. Every time you don’t fall, compromising your value, your integrity is strengthened. When you feel nervous, anxious, breathe deeply. Don't let your fears be a reckless decision. Slow down internally and evaluate what is beneficial for you. When you run from your feelings, when you try to escape from them with harmful actions, then you will never get to the root of your issues. Look inside yourself. Don't fall for what is tempting, seductive. See beyond the appearance. Your need for a harmful substance may come from another suffering that you're ignoring. Devote your actions toward what is beneficial, what expands you, rather than what diminishes you. When you see your truth, how that pleasure can quickly turn into more suffering, into more attachment, then you can work toward another path.